Mike Nicol, Author, David Jackson, Illustrator Alfred A. Knopf $23 (196p) ISBN 978-0-679-43766-6
South African writer Nicol's third novel (after The Powers That Be) thunders along as it conjures up depraved and blackly fantastic images. In casting his story in the form of a grim parable, however, Nicol sacrifices character delineation to the symbolic representation of moral values. The protagonist is an unappealingly bitter, rifle-toting boy referred to as ``the youth.'' He hardly speaks, and most of what he feels is expressed by his cocking and uncocking his ever-present gun. When his father is arrested for murder in a European village, the youth flees into the nearby forest, subsisting by raiding chicken coops in town. He soon falls in with a cynical forest-dweller, Madach, with whom, after a brief stop in a monastery run by a diabolical monk, he heads south by ship. On board, a prostitute handles the youth in a lusty manner; back on land, the people he meets are generally unfriendly, unless they are masking their true intentions. Nicol's prose is marvelously vivid, dark and arch, achieving at times an incantatory power through biblical cadence (``But at this time there came a band of Romanies...''). While the story it limns is mysterious and provocative, however, the novel fails to grasp the reader's heart; the characters are more symbol than flesh, and their trials too shadowy to be illuminating. Black-and-white illustrations by David Jackson. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 07/31/1995
Release date: 08/01/1995
Paperback - 210 pages - 978-0-679-76039-9
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